Sunday, May 17, 2009

I have two hundred and fifty dollars!

Spring is a season of celebration. Easter, Mother's and Father's Days, graduations, First Holy Communions, and the list goes on. The Marciniak household is particularly busy this time of year; eight out of eleven birthdays are in March, April and May (apparently we are seasonal breeders). It seems that with nine children someone is reaching some kind of milestone each spring. 2009 is no exception: Michelle and I are marking twenty years of marriage, Jacob's eighth grade graduation approaches, Joseph's First Holy Communion is just two weeks away, and the usual cavalcade of birthdays all await. Join me in thanking the Lord for tax returns.

As we prepare to invite family members from far and wide to celebrate at the Marciniak mansion my yearly obsession kicks in to high gear: the gardens. I graduated from the Norbert Marciniak School of Gardening (my dear old dad), and there are three basic tenets: first, make it BIG and FLASHY. Second, jam as many plants in as you can. Third, the gardens absolutely MUST look better than any other poor sap's within a twenty-mile radius. With these guiding principles I begin my quest for horticultural perfection year after year.

The wife and kids are roped in early, though the older children have devised devious and dastardly schemes to avoid hauling mulch and preparing fertilizer. Excuses like "I have homework", or "I have to study for my exams", or "I have a fever of 103"...yeah, well, prove it. Otherwise get me a spade and start spreading peat moss. Every morning my wife dutifully waters the new plants, a task that can take upwards of an hour or more. The toddlers look longingly out the windows, mouthing something about eating; there is no time for frivolity. The begonias shall not be denied. Nights fly by as I lie awake trying to devise new color themes and consider how I can siphon more out of the budget to buy a few more clematis vines. Sketches and plans are strewn about the dining room table, and trips to Home Depot become sources of marital strife. But the work continues, and as time shortens my anxiety grows faster than my petunias.

Finally, each year, the day comes, the celebrations begin, and the gardens look nothing less than stunning. I get a smattering of compliments, offer tours and identify particular specimens for those who probably were only asking to be polite, and try to steer the conversation to flowers when I can.

Three months later I cut it all down and put the remains at the curb.

It's a lot of work for a day or two of parties. Each fall as I look at the browning leaves and dying stems I wonder if it is worth all the effort. It seems to be such a distraction. Years have gone by where instead of contemplating my children's events I am thinking about whether impatiens or marigolds would look good in the porch pots. It seems as though the older I get the more I want to dwell on the garden of my family than the flower beds. Isn't that really what is most important?

Today at Mass I was reminded of the joy of celebration. Just before Father sent us on our way, he honored several in our congregation: our community's founders, Amy and Norm, earned honorary Doctorates in Human Letters the day before at the Canisius College commencement. Tiffany was recognized by Holy Angels Academy for her honors-level performance. Will graduated from Franciscan University. Teresa graduated from D'Youville. Charlotte turned three years old. With each announcement we clapped and smiled and reveled in the moment, cherishing the love we share as a community of believers. But the very last one really got us on our feet.

Reba has been coming to St. Luke's for years. She has had a rough life, to say the least. As the ravages of bodily abuse take their toll she is slowly losing her ability to think and comprehend. Her attention span is shrinking, and she often paces up and down the aisle during Mass. Her hearing is poor, so when she speaks it is boisterous. The Mission has provided for her well being for many years, and she has been faithful. As Father went through the list of celebrations, her excitement grew; she clapped and smiled, and jumped to her feet with each announcement. Finally, the fervor of the moment was too much to contain, and she turned to the congregation after Father finished his announcements and shouted, "I have two hundred and fifty dollars! And I didn't know I had it!"

I have no idea where she got the money; perhaps someone mailed her a check. Maybe she found it squirreled away somewhere that she had long forgotten putting it. It mattered not. We all let out a roar of laughter and applause, and she grinned from ear to ear, basking in the joy of the moment. We celebrated, not for the money, but for her joy. It felt good.

When parties and celebrations approach we spend a lot of time worrying, planning and scheming. Maybe we need to spend a little more time truly celebrating and being present to one another. The Gospel of Luke gives us a good example:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose
name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside
the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much
serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me
by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."

This year I am going to try to choose the better part and truly celebrate, not the garden or the perfect home we have prepared, but our children and the people we love and cherish. Thanks, Reba, for the lesson worth every penny of that two hundred and fifty bucks.

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